It’s hard to remember but there was a time when we weren’t tethered to hand-held devices, PDAs and over-arching schedules. Each advance comes with its own set of positive and unanticipated consequences. With the advent of cable for example people were able to watch television independent from a network schedule. When VCR technology was introduced people could record shows without being home to watch them in real time. Speaking of which, years later the DVR allows us to pause live television. Using the internet we can meet like-minded people who share a variety of interests without being limited to the same geographical area.
Sometimes these advances can seem more like a burden as it becomes difficult to unplug and recharge. We also have to be careful about isolating from social interactions by missing out on regular in-person contact. Yet no one can deny the benefits of being able to have a live chat using Skype. So far we’re discussing our personal use of technology and time-keeping skills but how do we manage our work life?
One such conversation about how people are managing their time was introduced in the article Debunking the 24/7 Workday. In it author Sharon Meers writes that burning the candle at both ends may not be a sign of being an productive employee and in fact hinders many from functioning.
I’ve spent a good part of my career as impaired as a drunk. You have too if, like me, your nightly sleep averages less than 5 hours. According to medical research, this makes you the cognitive equal of someone DWI.
Further Meers asks: But is working as many hours as we can the same as being productive?
So many of us define our self-worth by how hard we work, we have trouble disentangling our egos and even asking if there might be a better way. When we’ve pushed ourselves to be good students, get good jobs and deliver results, it’s hard to hear that our more-more-more approach may not be the right one. For many, being asked to examine how we work feels like being asked to be mediocre.
It’s an interesting analysis especially considering how different cultures and nationalities define productivity even within enhanced technological advantages. European countries tend to have established vacation times that are two to three times the length of their US counterparts (if those employees get paid time off at all). There are circumstances that may delve deeper than sheer number of hours worked and need to include work/life balance considerations. Women who have children and work may have specific needs; likewise single parents of either gender. That shouldn’t negate the contributions and schedules of those who are child-free either. Certain careers are simply far more demanding of a person’s time and capacity than others.
Having stated that there is also the time put into and use of emerging technologies that can have a great impact. Using social networking sites can unexpectedly serve as a distraction in much the same way channel surfing tv does. It really comes to being expansive in our definition of who we are and in not determining ourselves solely based on “what you do”. I know I’ve been “guilty” of wasting time at home and who hasn’t spent some time surfing web sites during the course of the business day? In fact, as a writer I often have multiple story ideas on the back burner and due to my self-imposed blogging schedule have found myself preparing posts well after midnight to schedule them in time for the East Coast time zone morning commute (which tends to be a convenient time for my readers).
Perhaps a refocus and reminder is in order. We have a finite amount of time to do whatever we choose. If we acknowledge that and take ownership of it then we might be more willing to accept our time belongs to us and should be under our control. After the necessary obligations we need to be productive and meet our needs it’s really up to us what we do and who we choose to spend time with. The question remains whether we’re creating opportunities or letting outside circumstances dictate our lives.